As Americans prepare to celebrate our independence this weekend, citizens of Hong Kong are dangerously close to losing theirs. After a year of historic pro-democracy protests in response to Beijing’s 2019 extradition bill, Chinese President Xi Jinping officially enacted a national security law on Tuesday aimed at stamping out dissent in Hong Kong once and for all.
The sweeping legislation was shrouded in secrecy for the 40 days between its introduction and passage, and its reveal confirmed the worst fears of Hong Kong leaders and activists. With more than 60 articles—which cover secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign entities—it continues the worrisome trend of China’s constraint of civil liberties in the region. Mass demonstrations in response to the law erupted on Wednesday, July 1—the anniversary of Hong Kong’s independence from British colonial rule—in the city’s largest display of resistance this year.
As a stipulation of the territory’s return to China from British rule in 1997, Hong Kong had previously enjoyed a semi-autonomous state characterized by the maxim “one country, two systems.” As a special administrative region, Hong Kong managed its own courts, currency, and extradition. However, according to Margaret Lewis, an expert in Chinese law at Seton Hall, this system increasingly looks more like “one country, 1.5 systems.” Many view the national security law as another step toward the end of Hong Kong’s economic and legal sovereignty.
The law paves the way for Beijing’s intrusion into Hong Kong’s long history of judicial independence, allowing for the introduction of China’s repressive legal practices. It sets up extensive administrative networks to investigate and prosecute various vague offenses thought to undermine the Chinese government.